A resident at a nursing home in Gregg County became the county’s fourth person to pass away from the COVID-19, or coronavirus, on Sunday.

County officials said Monday that Gregg now has 182 confirmed cases of the virus, which has gripped a good portion of the world in recent months – early-on in China, and since March in the U.S., shutting schools, all sorts of non-essential business, and tanking the national economy, in addition to claiming thousands of lives.

The city of Kilgore’s Facebook page updates coronavirus activity locally on a regular basis. It was noted on Monday’s post that the city now has 10 confirmed cases of the virus, up from seven last week: seven in the Gregg County portion of Kilgore, and three in the Rusk County portion. It was stated that the majority of those 10 are believed to be recoveries.

County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne told MRoberts Media Monday that the county’s most recent death was a 74-year-old male resident of a nursing facility. In recent weeks, it was known that coronavirus cases had been confirmed at three facilities in the county, including Highland Pines and Whispering Pines.

That means that all four of the coronavirus-related deaths in Gregg County have been people who were over 73 and were either nursing home residents – one of them was a nursing home employee.

Browne said the county has three nursing home “in distress.”

“There was obviously somehow a breakdown in controlling the virus getting into the nursing homes,” he said. “If they do what the governor’s done — and they have to, they have to do all of the testing, we’re certainly going to see more cases — but that’s also how we can do the epidemiology, the quarantining and isolation to control it.”

He said as the reopening proceeds, the public has an obligation.

“We cannot live forever in a lockdown system,” Browne said. “There has to be relief. But people have to take more personal responsibility in their opening up. That had been asked of them, but I see none of that happening other than the more responsible people that were doing it. It is not ‘if’ you get it as much as who you will give it to that is more vulnerable than you are.”

He said he’s concerned about not seeing enough face masks being used in public.

“I saw too much lack of protection going on this last weekend,” he said. “Opening up should require more face mask usage. In spite of what people think of China, they are still using face masks in public.”

The county noted that it had administered 1,769 coronavirus tests, total, and 1,464 of those were negative. Of those, 123 results are pending, and recoveries are listed at 54. Some of those pending are the tests that were given in the mobile unit over a recent three-day period.

In Rusk County, there are 44 positive cases and 25 reported recoveries.

Also on Monday, the Gregg County Commissioners Court took action to help offset virus-related costs, pulling aside $1.02 million of funds from general reserves to help fund costs of things like personal protective equipment, overtime pay, and office equipment.

Any funds not spent, it was noted, would be returned to the general fund, which has a balance of just over $42 million.

The commissioners are expecting federal and state aid eventually, but this should help until that happens, although that could be as much as two years away, with the entire country dealing with similar issues.

It was noted by County Judge Bill Stoudt in the meeting that most Gregg County expenses related to the virus have been in the health department and sheriff’s department, but there have been expenses to all six of the county’s departments.

Laurie Woloszyn, Gregg County Auditor, said it’s possible the county would be reimbursed for some COVID-19-related costs, like permanent glass shields in the offices of county clerks and the tax assessor and collector’s offices.

In other action related to the virus on Monday, a pandemic/bioterrorism position was created in the county’s health department to help guide the department through the COVID-19 crisis. Michelle Skyrme was appointed to that position. It was said that Skyrme will help advise the county on the virus and monitor cases here.

Although no one has dealt with anything like the issues coronavirus has created, Skyrme guided the county in the past when she served as executive administrative assistant in the health department. She left the position in 2011, appointed at that point to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles by Gov. Rick Perry.

Of concern to many here is not just Gregg and Rusk acounties but nearby Smith County, which includes the city of Tyler. Northeast Texas Public Health District officials said that Smith has 192 confirmed cases. Smith has also had four deaths.

Statewide, according to The Associated Press quoting state health officials, 785 residents have tested positive and there have been 31 more deaths linked to the virus.

On Sunday, the AP reported, Texas Department of State Health Services reported at total of 47,784 confirmed cases of the virus and 1,336 deaths associated with it. The true numbers are likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.


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